Everyone who spends even a little amount of time watching the incoming rookie class will develop a ‘draft crush’. More often than not, however, you are left to watch on in disappointment as a prospect for whom you developed an affection is selected by another team.
I am of course no stranger to seeing a favorite college player head to a team that isn’t the 49ers, but I also have a curious record when it comes to one position – wide receiver.
Wide receiver is probably my favorite position to watch when it comes to prospects, and each year one tends to stand out as a draft crush. In 2018, that player was Dante Pettis. For the 2019 draft, it was Deebo Samuel and in 2020 it was Brandon Aiyuk. Do you see a theme here?
We may be back with something brewing here for 2023… https://t.co/FljOy1n7vI— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 17, 2023
Aiyuk stands as the wide receiver I have crushed the hardest on during my time watching prospects, and the 49ers trading up to pick him three years ago was the selection that had me half pondering some kind of weird transatlantic mind meld with Kyle Shanahan.
I am joking, of course, and my record in identifying future 49er receivers has worsened since then. Elijah Moore was my draft crush in 2021 and the Niners did not take a wideout, though his selection by a Jets staff featuring several former San Francisco coaches gave me something of a moral victory.
And, to be brutally honest, Danny Gray was not on my radar in 2022.
Still, finding my wide receiver draft crush is an exercise I enjoy every year, and I think I’ve found my candidate for 2023.
It remains to be seen if the 49ers will add to an already stacked group of pass-catching weapons in this year’s draft. Should they look to do so, my receiver draft crush for 2023 could be an excellent fit for the San Francisco offense.
Step forward, Jonathan Mingo from Ole Miss.
Versatility and production
So, why Mingo? Well, there are a host of boxes he ticks. From his production to his physical profile, his usage and, most importantly, his skill set.
Mingo tested superbly at the Combine, posting a Relative Athletic Score of 9.93 out of 10:
His combination of size – Mingo boasts a stocky 6ft 1in and 220-pound frame – and underrated speed was utilized in a variety of ways by Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin’s spread offense is obviously a far cry from the scheme Shanahan runs, but the variety of positions in which Mingo has experience lining up should greatly appeal to a coach whose attack relies heavily on versatile weapons and the element of disguise.
Mingo lined up on the outside, in the slot, as an H-back and in the backfield during his time with Ole Miss. In doing so, last year, he racked up 861 yards at an average of 16.9 yards per reception and five touchdowns.
The traits he displayed in delivering such production should serve to further entice Shanahan and the 49ers.
Meeting the Shanahan criteria
At this point in the Shanahan era, it is no secret what the Niners coach wants in a wide receiver. He obviously primarily wants players who can produce explosive plays – Mingo had 14 receptions of 20 yards or more, tied for eighth in the SEC, so no issues there.
But Shanahan also wants receivers who can run routes with the requisite precision, has little patience for drops, and demands that his wideouts contribute significantly in the blocking game.
Mingo has shown tremendous promise in his route-running, with which he has consistently created separation.
Jonathan Mingo— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
Plays faster than his 40 time (4.46) suggests. A constant threat to make big plays downfield.
Eats up cushion in a hurry here, accesses another gear as he breaks towards the post and tracks the ball well, adjusting to inaccurate ball behind him. pic.twitter.com/uysY2818NF
Extremely quick off the line, Mingo eats up cushion in a hurry when faced with off coverage and maintains his speed throughout his routes, his ability to fluidly change direction without slowing down enabling him to regularly break free from coverage and making him a substantial threat on double moves.
But where Mingo is most impressive as a route-runner is in the work he does with his release, continually using clever footwork and jab steps to get defenders to open their hips and create leverage. This is most evident on deep routes, where Mingo utilizes his explosiveness to take full advantage of that leverage and get over the top of defenders downfield.
Uses his release to create inside leverage and has the explosiveness to get a step going downfield. Great ball tracking again, lays out for the ball. pic.twitter.com/w0DzEWbWJX— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
Such route-running prowess should intrigue Shanahan, as should Mingo’s play at the catch point.
Mingo tracks the ball extremely well and does an excellent job of adjusting to the flight of the ball, frequently changing his route speed to put himself into a better position to catch it and showcasing the concentration and body control to corral off-target passes.
Impressive concentration and sliding catch over the middle of the field. pic.twitter.com/FGLUhd1ZR9— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
Yet, the aspects of Mingo’s game that will perhaps be of greatest interest to Shanahan are what he does after he gets the ball in his hands and what he does when he does not have it in his possession.
The success of San Francisco’s offense has, in large part, been a product of having receivers who thrive after the catch. In that sense, Mingo would fit right in.
Mingo’s acceleration after the catch belies his 40 time and has seen him blossom into a true home run hitter who can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.
A home-run hitter from all over the field. Makes first defender miss with the stiff arm. Goodnight. pic.twitter.com/yzOXW0BzqI— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
He blends his speed with elusiveness and physicality akin to that of Samuel that makes him a massive asset in the screen game and in the open field after short to intermediate routes.
Working from the inside, mixes up his foot speed before his break to keep the defender on the back foot, fluidly breaks and works back to the ball and then has the body control to make his man miss as he's catching the ball. pic.twitter.com/msSBNptDyJ— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
That physicality extends to Mingo’s blocking. He is a determined blocker, unafraid to take on defenders with a size advantage, who can open holes in the run game and spring fellow pass-catchers for significant gains on screens and short receptions.
More impressive blocking from Mingo, who reacts really quickly to the defender's efforts to disengage. Adjusts his hand placement and springs the back to the next level with an excellent block. pic.twitter.com/2MBZOYT1p7— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
Add that aptitude as a blocker to his explosive play-making, his route-running prowess and his skills at the catch point and in Mingo you arguably have the archetypal Shanahan receiver.
Operating as a H-back and taking on a DL to set up a big gain. pic.twitter.com/HdjmdApd4r— Nicholas McGee (@nicholasmcgee24) March 21, 2023
But no receiver anticipated to fall until at least day two or maybe even day three — Mingo is 177 on Pro Football Focus’ big board — is without his flaws.
In Mingo’s case, he does not use his frame to separate from physical coverage regularly and often struggles to deliver explosiveness out of his breaks when running underneath routes.
However, in an offense that excels at putting receivers in space, such concerns about Mingo’s proficiency in defeating physical coverage can be minimized.
Though there is a case to be made that Mingo is too similar to receivers the 49ers have selected in years gone by, he offers a downfield element that has often been lacking from San Francisco’s receiving corps and that Gray has yet to provide.
With the well-rounded skill set he possesses, Mingo could well develop into an ideal successor for Aiyuk if the 49ers can’t re-sign their top wideout by 2025. But, as I’m sure you’ll understand, I’d rather not think like that right now.